Brain Hacks

8 Scars of Emotional Neglect and How to Start Your Healing Process

The effects of being unloved as a child, how you can absolutely break free of the past and the 8 steps to start the process.

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Healing the scars of emotional neglect and childhood abuse
Photo by Nathan Cowley – Pexels

Healing from emotional neglect is one of the most profound transformations you will experience. As a mindset coach, I dedicate myself to helping people break free of the past and change their life. Without hesitation, I can say that the vast majority of my clients are held back by what happened in their childhood. I cannot begin to explain how incredible it feels for them to breakthrough, overcome their limiting beliefs, finally heal from emotional neglect and be empowered to thrive.

We all want to be happy, confident, successful. But have you ever felt like something was holding you back? Perhaps something that you can’t really put your finger on, but it stops you from achieving your full potential. Most likely, this originates from your childhood. Our subconscious mind starts running programmes from a very young age, which affect the way we perceive and interpret reality.

Unless you break the pattern (and you can break it at any stage in your life), these early programmes tend to get stronger and reinforce that perspective of reality. When you are not loved, ‘badly loved’ or feel unloved as a child, you perceive that you are not worthy of affection, that the world is unsafe and others can’t be trusted. As a result of this emotional neglect, you develop to become an adult who is likely to run a strong programme of insecurity, lack of self-worth, loneliness, anger and desperate craving for connection. Typically, there are two main behavioural responses to those feelings: anger or introversion. These often manifest in some of the symptoms below:

The Effects of Emotional Neglect

1. Lack of Self- Esteem

A child has very little control over their world and what happens to them. When they are abused or traumatised, this is what the world is like to them. If they love their carer but don’t feel loved back, the message is that they are not worthy of it. They take in every abuse, every bad word, every insult, every indifference, every bit of trauma and run with it a subconscious programme of self-worth. Even when they realise that the behaviour they are subjected to is not right, they can’t escape their fate, so they believe that their actions could never influence things.

Confidence and self-esteem grows from what you experience and how you experience it, how you feel about yourself and your ability to believe in yourself. It cannot flourish if you are in an environment of trauma and abuse. Unless you correct the programme as an adult, it continues running.

2. Stress and Anxiety

Feeling unsafe creates a heightened state of alert. When this is experienced as a child over a continuous period of time, the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism doesn’t come to an end. Resources to sustain that mechanism are continuously in demand, thereby constantly feeding back a sense of danger to the brain. Emotional neglect becomes harder to heal as this mechanism becomes more and more established.

3. Difficulty Establishing Emotional Connections

Mirror neurons have the function of mirroring the behaviour of others. Neuroscientist Marco Lacobini’s research suggest that mirror neurons develop the ability to understand the behaviour and intentions of other people. It also argues that they regulate the capacity for emotions in humans. Poor learning models in childhood therefore result in trouble making emotional connections, because the brain hasn’t been trained to establish a safe and loving attachment, or recognise the feedback received from others’ emotions and behaviours.

4. Self-sabotage

The subconscious mind is running programmes of low self-esteem, that keep you in a false sense of security by not taking any risks outside the world that is known, and that keep reinforcing how you are indeed not worthy. Equally, the relationship model can be deeply distorted, leaving the wrong perspective on what is an acceptable boundary in a friendship or relationship. This is why adults might choose a partner that treats them poorly, to keep them in that known loop.

5. Difficulty Establishing Boundaries

A child developing in a healthy environment is given the opportunity to explore and understand their boundaries, both for themselves and the world around them. However, in a neglectful or traumatic environment, they are not given that chance. Worse even, they are shown boundaries that are not acceptable. As they grow into adulthood, the extreme need to be loved overrides any need for boundaries. In other words, they will do anything to be loved and will do anything for love, until they can heal the wounds of their emotional neglect. This can manifest on big things such as losing one’s identity in a relationship or smaller daily matters such as being overbearing and not able to understand other people’s boundaries.

6. Lack of trust

Because they are developing in a constant heightened state of danger and distrust, there is no learnt behaviour of trust, and no ability to recognise the evidence of trustworthiness around them.  

7. Anger

For a person who has been unloved as a child, fear, worry, anger and loneliness are the most powerful and long-standing programmes. Typically, they would feel easily attacked and take things personally, feel inadequate, find it difficult to connect, feel lonely and unworthy. All of these feelings breed and develop anger and can manifest themselves in irritability, restlessness or aggressive behaviour. The person’s resilience is very thin, and therefore the smallest comment might trigger anger. The opposite coping mechanism is introversion, with triggers pushing further into low self-esteem and self-loathing.

8. Perfectionism

Perfectionism is often a symptom in adults who were poorly loved and neglected as children; the never-ending attempt to be perfect, to please in the hope of being loved in return.

Breaking Free of the Past

The good news is that whatever your past experience, you can absolutely overcome these scars, heal them, and become exactly what you dream of being. The first step is to understand that your past doesn’t define you, that others don’t define who you are, that you can be in full control of your thoughts, feelings and perception of the world around and within.

Neuroplasticity is real; it is the ability of one’s brain to change and adapt its structure and function. This means that you have the power to change how you think, how you feel and how you behave. You can reverse all the damage of childhood and thrive. You can love and truly feel loved, be and feel successful, at peace, confident, free, able to make meaningful connections with others. 

Once you are empowered with this knowledge and mindset, you can start actioning it to get the life you deserve. Look forward. You must rewire your brain and change your perspective.

Healing from Emotional Neglect: The Process

Here is a simple 8 step process to heal from emotional neglect, break you free of the hold backs of your past and help you get the success mindset for a thriving life.

  1. Understand that the past does not define you. Accept you cannot change it, but you can get healing from emotional neglect and you can change the future
  2. Recognise that the most important words you will ever hear are the words you tell yourself
  3. Change your inner-talk. Talk to yourself with kindness and self-love
  4. Decide that you want to be free of your past and believe it can happen
  5. Choose how you tell your own story. Define your perspective
  6. Notice at least three great things about you every day
  7. Create a vision board for the life of your dreams and how you want to feel every day
  8. Get working towards it

The main key to healing from emotional neglect is understanding that your past hasn’t broken you beyond repair. What you have experienced has created a distorted perception of reality and limiting beliefs that are holding you back. But you can break free of those beliefs, shift the perspective and change your mindset. The feelings and behaviours developed in childhood are learnt and therefore can be unlearnt. They can be desensitised, disrupted, destroyed and re-programmed. You have to want it, believe you can do it, and take action.

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